Monday, December 5, 2011

Red Dirt Running in the Pure Grit

Previously I posted an "out of the box" review of the Brooks Pure Flow (pictured above left) I purchased back in October. By now I have had a chance to wear the Pure Flow for several runs and I like them quite a bit. I would have no issues wearing them for anything up to half mary distance. Beyond that my body is simply not used to a more minimalist shoe and would require more beef for the time being. 

Subsequently, I ponied up the dough for a pair of the trail shoes from the same Brooks line, the Pure Grit (pictured above right). Likewise I have had the opportunity to wear test these whips on several runs. Recently I retired my first pair of trail shoes from The North Face. These were a mild stability trail shoe that had a good amount of cushion (not too much or too little) and gave decent protection from all the stuff I kicked, tripped and stumbled over. The Fire Road models had treated me well for about 275 miles. They still felt pretty good but were beginning to fall apart. The outsole had started to separate at the toe and was also showing some real signs of wear. To the point that traction was an issue. My other pair of trail skids are Pearl Izumi Iso-Seek IVs. These babies are plush, feel solid and stable, give plenty of protection and the no seam upper feels nice. But I tend to get hot spots on the bottom of my toes when wearing them for longer runs and they are a bit heavy for my liking. So these more or less became my go to sneakers for just wearing around and I love 'em in that way. I only give those details so you will know where I am coming from in my review of the Grit. My first two pairs of dedicated trail shoes I would classify as "average" in terms of stability, protection, weight and heel drop. By "average" I mean they weren't hiking boots and they weren't Vibram Five Fingers. They were pretty much middle of the road type trail shoes in the growing spectrum of available trail shoes. The Grit, in my opinion, fits into that spectrum towards the minimalist end. I know the Grit is not minimalist like a NB Minimus, a pair of Vibrams or the like. But you can't argue that Brooks has put a shoe out there that has "less" than most. It seemed like a perfect transition shoe for me. Not that I want to run trails bare foot or in Vibrams, that's another story altogether. 

If you have looked at any reviews of the Grit you're likely to have seen a couple of things repeated. That the Nav Band is useless, the traction is suspect and the split toe design is a puzzlement. I would have to agree on all of those points, to some extent. More on that later. But first, how do these feel? In a word, great. Compared to most "average" trail shoes these are light and flexible but still well cushioned. The use of the Brooks DNA in combination with BioMoGo (the world's first biodegradable midsole) works well. And all that with just 4mm of drop heel to toe. Most "average" trail shoes have about 12 mm of drop. This means the Grit "feels" lower to the ground. It also means, that if you are not accustomed to this, you will likely feel a stretch in your calf and/or achilles when first wearing them. I started out slowly in these working my way up from infrequent shorter runs now to more frequent middle distance runs and have not experienced any ill effects from the low drop. The upper feels good and it seems that there is ample room in the toe box for me. There is some decent arch support built into the shoe and just enough padding in the right spot under the laces. In terms of protection there really isn't a whole lot here. The front of the shoe is covered with a piece of leather over the mesh upper, no hard rubber rock kicker. I can't complain about the absence of a rock plate as the outsole and midsole seem to do an adequate job of offering just enough protection on the rockier trails around here, at least for shorter trail runs. 

Above is a close up shot of the split toe design. Honestly, I can't tell it is even there. I'm not sure it has any functional purpose. Brooks claims it allows the big toe to work independently engaging your natural balance and providing for a more powerful push off. It is the one new design piece that I would grade a total fail in my book. Another design feature is the Ideal Heel (pictured below) meant to shift the point of contact forward for a more efficient stride. Take a look and you might notice the heels on the Pure Project shoes are angled up. I have to say I think this one works for me. I noticed something different about it when I first tried them on. When trying them out on the treadmill at the store there is just a mere fraction of a second when I would normally expect to make contact yet my foot is still moving forward. I could sense my foot strike change ever so slightly towards my forefoot (I am usually a midfoot striker) without trying to change anything myself. And on the trail it is easier to feel it mile after mile. I like this design feature. 

On the traction issue. I have read many comments about poor overall traction. I cannot fully agree with this. I have worn mine on dry single track, both technical and not, as well as on some damp runs where the trails were covered with leaves after the end of fall and had some muddy sections. I can't really say the traction was that bad. In fact, it seemed comparable to any other trail shoe I have used. With one exception. On a couple of local trails we have wooden foot bridges. Traveling over these when wet was downright treacherous. I'm talking flip flops on ice folks. I literally nearly fell down the first two times and took to walking over them. Now I imagine anything short of track spikes on these wet wooden bridges would be lacking but I have run these when wet before and never almost flew off of them like that. In regards to the Nav Band I have to agree that it doesn't work the way I imagine it could or should. First, why a Nav Band on a shoe that has laces? The issue is that the Nav Band, for me and many others, is simply too loose to do any real good in terms of fit and I would say that I have normal width feet. But I did find a practical use for it after a couple of runs (see pic below). The Nav Band is a perfect place to stow away the laces and keep them tucked away nicely. 

A little on real world wear test results. Drew Connor, Manager at Rush Running, wore the Grit to a first place overall finish at the Bass Pro Dogwood Canyon 50k this fall. This is a technical course with several creek crossings and a load of elevation change. His only complaint was blisters on his big toes. That may have been due to the wet feet. He also wore them to a 7th overall finish (despite 6 bonus miles) at Turkey & Taturs, another rocky, technical course. His legs were pretty well trashed. How much of that was the shoe and how much was the bonus mileage? Don't know. What I do know is he wears them for all of his trail runs. Ryan Holler, another local guy, wore his more or less out of the box to a 9th place overall finish at the Pinhoti 100 this fall. He anticipated changing shoes at some point but absolutely loved the feel and performance of the Grit to the point he wore them the entire distance. As for me, I have completed a number of trail runs in the 6-10 mile range with no complaints whatsoever. It wasn't until I knocked out 15 miles on rocky, technical terrain that I felt the lack of beef. My feet were sore afterwards. Like I had run a mile on my gravel driveway barefoot. And my legs were beat. I felt soreness in both my quads and hamstrings unlike normal. I have to attribute some of that to the more minimal shoe. I mentioned how I feel these protect enough when going over rocky terrain. I can feel the rocks, more so than my previous trail shoes, but it doesn't hurt. I also notice that these shoes flex and roll more side to side than my previous trail shoes. Initially I had them laced up a little loosely and felt the Grits were a tad unstable on technical terrain. The thinking was that with the low heel drop I could get by with that. Personally I prefer my shoes to not be laced up tightly. What I took for instability was likely the designed flex and roll of the shoe allowing it to move more freely like my foot would naturally do. After snugging the laces up during that run the sense of instability is no longer there. I simply think that wearing them for 15 miles was a bit more than what I was used to resulting in the beat legs and feet. I believe if I continue to transition with these they will eventually be good for practically any trail run. I do plan on packing them for my trip down to Texas for my first 50 miler at Rocky Raccoon in February. I think the course (pretty flat and non-technical) will be a great test.

Update 12/10/2011
I completed my longest run yet in the Grits yesterday. A couple clicks north of 20 miles with about 5,600 ft of elevation change out at Blowing Springs trails in Bella Vista. Legs and feet felt better afterwards than they did after the 15 miler at Slaughter Pen the previous week. Sore but not beat up. Honestly, I would have to say the soreness comes on more quickly than in my Pearl Izumi Iso-Seek shoes. But today that soreness reached a certain point and then stopped about midway through the run. Part of the improvement has to be the smoother, less technical trails. Hopefully, part of it is also my body becoming accustomed to these shoes. My right achilles was pretty sore but feels back to normal this morning. And no blisters, or real hot spots on my toes. I used my Experia socks (with Thorlo cushioning) and they worked well. I prefer thin socks but these are the thickest I have and seemed to work well. The shoes are a hair big on me but the next size down was simply too small, had to compromise. There were some muddy, sloppy sections and the Grit performed as well as any shoe I have tried. A couple spots would have been slick for anything short of a monster truck. The Grits gripped as well as my buddies Salomon Crossmax shoes in the muck.

Update 02/04/2012
I wore the Grit for the first two loops at RR50 and felt pretty good about them in some regards. The course was uber wet and muddy following a couple of inches of rain at the start. I had no more issues with traction than any other swinging Tom, Dick or Jane out there. The only place it lacked bite was on the clay slopes where everyone had issues regardless of shoe choice. Even on the several wooden bridges I was good. I did change shoes for the final loop. I did so for a couple of reasons, my feet were soaked and starting to get sore. I had slacked off wearing the Grit in my training and I think this showed in that my feet weren't up to going 50 miles in them yet. My buddy, Mike Rush, wore them the entire distance on his way to a top 10 finish and loved them. I did perform a little experiment after the race. While cleaning my shoes in the tub I filled the Grits and Saucony Peregrines with water to see which drained faster. The Peregrine won that contest hands down. Not very scientific but there you go. The course at Rocky Raccoon is not technical at all and I saw several other runners wearing them. I would have no worries lacing these babies up again down in Huntsville nest year.

Update 08/27/2012
Likely this will be my final update on the Grit. I have abandoned wearing them for anything more than very short, non-technical runs. A couple of weeks following RR50 I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my right foot. Despite my slow and careful attempt at a transition to a more minimalist shoes the Grit is too far out of my comfort zone. I believe the lack of lateral support is the issue with me. The shoes twist laterally quite easily and that seems to be an issue with my anatomy. I am assuming that as my legs get fatigued and lose the ability to absorb impact more and more is transferred to my ligaments resulting in bad things. I also found that I prefer to have a rock plate in my shoes. Wearing slightly more substantial shoes (Saucony Peregrine and Patagonia Tsali) seem to work much better for me on longer, more technical runs. If the Grit or something even less works for you I think that is great. Everyone has his or her sweet spot and mine is over the other way a little bit. They do, however, make one helluva comfortable pair of shoes for knocking around in from time to time. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Have You Earned It?

We have become a culture that believes in silver bullets. We spend billions every year on pills that cure this or that, on fad diets, exercise gizmos and gadgets. Nearly every single day I see an article posted on the internet with some "secret" to running. How this workout will help you run faster or these drills will make you a better runner. I find myself less and less likely to take these seriously. Much of what is out there is simply the same old stuff repackaged with a sparkly new bow on it. No matter how hard you try to make a pig look pretty in the end it's still just a pig. Now if you are a brand spanking new member of the running community I can see there might be some benefit to gain from digesting these offerings. Here is a sample from the Twitter and FB postings I have recently seen.

"Efficiency is key to improve your performance. Use this guide to power your workout."
"Secrets from the Savannah:
What the Diets of Elite Kenyan Runners Teach Us About Optiomal Nutrition"
"Improve Your Running Indoors This Winter"

As Jason Fitzgerald recently pointed out in this honest article at Strength Running there are no secrets. His excellent article was the spark for my thoughts here. The closing line is a classic: "I’m more interested in getting you to take action and put in the work than giving you training porn."
Bryon Powell of iRunFar, in his excellent ultra running book Relentless Forward Progress, writes:
"Ultramarathon success is built on consistent training... Aim for relentless forward progress in training."
Ultra runner extradinaire Geoff Roes authored this excellent post on his blog Fumbling Towards Endurance. "I think it's a lot more important to be consistent over the course of months and even years than it is to be consistent over the course of days or weeks."
Consistency is the key. Period. End of story. After several years of being inconsistent I am finally in a position, over the last 18 months, to make running a regular part of my life. I added speed work and tempo runs, I have researched fueling and hydration, I eat up shoe and gear reviews and try new drills and techniques. The result? My times have improved. In three marathons during that time I have dropped 99 minutes off my PR. I now have a legitimate chance of placing in my AG at any local race. Why? It’s not switching from Gatorade to Nuun or wearing Pure Project shoes in place of the Brooks Beast I started in. It’s not the foam roller I now use or the S! Caps or post run protein packed smoothies. It’s the consistent miles. Those things perhaps help me stay healthy by decreasing the wear and tear on my body physically. These may help me recover more easily to be better prepared for the next day. I think they do. However, I am convinced that without all the fluff, if I had been just as consistent with my running I would have still seen improvements. Maybe not to the extent that I have but  to some degree it would have been there.

I am amazed at this time of year, when the weather begins to turn cold, how few runners I see out on the roads and trails compared to just a few weeks ago. And then they come out of the woodwork in early Spring frantically trying to prepare for the local half marathon at the end of March. Will their times improve? Maybe. Will mine? You betcha ass. Why? I am willing to work harder in the cold, dark hours of winter. If you're inclined to leave the running shoes in the closet when it is too hot and humid, or it is raining buckets, or it is dark outside, or it is 15 degrees and snowing with the wind blowing, fine. I completely understand that. But those guys you saw with the headlamps Sunday morning running in the dark, slogging it out in the chilled drizzle getting wet and muddy... That was me and some other dedicated NWA GOATS out earning our due. And you know what? Runners like that will likely have an edge on you come race day. That's the guy who regularly sets a new PR every season. That's the guy taking home the hardware that could have been placed on your trophy shelf.

Now don't get me wrong here. I don't run to collect medals, t-shirts and accolades. I don't run to see who I can beat on race day. In the past year I have been in just 7 races (a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon, two marathons and two 50k races). I run to push myself. To find out what I am capable of doing. It gives me focus and clarity. It keeps me sane and it helps keep me healthy. But at some point I have to measure myself against something more than the clock. A race gets the competitive fire in my belly stoked up like I could never do myself on a training run. If improvement is what you seek then take responsibility and accept that there are no shortcuts.

My secret? Keep something dangling out there in front of you. Maybe it is a specific race. Perhaps a best time on your favorite course. How about the numbers on the scale you step on in the morning? Keep a carrot on a stick. For me, an epic race that requires me to stay consistent over the winter works. Last year it was the Cowtown Marathon. This year it is the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler the first weekend in February. For my first "real" ultra there is little doubt that I will have to be consistent over the winter to be ready to toe the line down in Texas. I anticipate the following thought lingering in my head throughout those cold runs. It is some advice offered from a grizzled ultra runner recently: “Don’t be greedy with it. It takes times to grow as a runner in this sport. You have to earn your way into it.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catching Up With the Running Farmer

I see a couple of weeks has passed since my last musing. The thought crossed my mind to post an update on what has been going on in my world. Certainly the season is changing here from Fall to Winter. All of the fantastic foliage that made trail running a real adventure has gone away. Now all of those leaves are on the trail covering the rocks and roots. One must exercise a bit of extra caution when out and about these days. And the changing of the season brings about more changes other than running. 

Like many of you Thanksgiving was spent with family. For us that meant a trip down to Texas. And a chance to run in a couple of new locations for me. Due to our late departure on Wednesday evening we only got as far as Durant, Oklahoma (around midnight) before pulling over for the night. So Thursday morning I braved the breezy, chilly drizzle to run my very own 8 mile Turkey Trot. From the hotel I found my way to the Northeast Oklahoma State University campus, home of the Savage Storm. Of course campus was all but deserted for the long weekend break. After running around the empty grounds I found Durant High School, home of Lion Pride, and ran some hilly roads there. Then it was on to Dixon Durant Park for a go around the trail before heading back to the hotel. About a half mile out from the Holiday Inn Express I could see that I was gonna be about a quarter mile short of the full 8 miles. Instead of rounding the distance off I turned into the Lowe's parking lot next to the hotel for a lap. Good thing I did as I found a $5 bill just sitting there on the ground. It pays to run. And, honest to goodness, it happened again yesterday. I needed another .5 to get my 6 miles in after running with a buddy and decided to run around some soccer fields across the road from the BV trails. I found a $1 bill this time. It pays to run. The day after Thanksgiving I ran a 6 mile tempo with my niece from Houston. She is a freshman in high school and runs cross country. In her first year of competition she placed top 5 in the district meet and qualified for the regional meet. If she elects to keep running I suspect she will be a big name on the local high school scene. On Saturday I ran solo for 12 miles on the back roads around Corsicana, Texas near my parents home. At one point, while passing in front of the Allison Ranch, a lone coyote took notice of me. The little guy perked up and paced me for maybe 50 yards. He must have been curious, reminded of the scene from one of my favorite movies, Dances With Wolves. Only it was a coyote and not a wolf and I'm not Kevin Costner. Although we are fraternity brothers. Seriously, Delta Chi. However, I don't remember that other guy in the photo above???

With the changing of the seasons new sense of urgency is upon us to complete the fort we are building for the kids out in the woods behind the house. My son's birthday is today and he has a sleepover planned for this weekend and wants to use the fort. This means braving the chilly air and finishing the front wall, installing a front door and steps before Saturday evening. With the forecast for freezing temps and the possibility of precipitation I fully anticipate it becoming an inside sleepover. Nonetheless, I will finish things up and at least get it weather tight before Winter fully settles in around here. I'll keep a couple of tents handy on Saturday that can be set up in the game room if they do indeed decided it is too chilly for outside sleeping. 

Along with the fort comes projects on the farm as Fall fades and Winter rolls around. We have 16 new chicks, pullets now actually, that will require some extra attention during the cold weather. A temporary coop has been arranged for them to provide shelter. And soon we will have to cull out the extra roosters and sell them off. By the Spring we should have close to two dozen layers cranking out the free range eggs we collect and sell. During the Winter egg production will likely fall to about half of what we normally get from the hens. There is firewood to collect for the stove and supplies and equipment that must be moved into storage. There are also inside projects of the "honey do" variety. Yesterday I put an insulating blanket on the water heater. Today I will check a couple of spots up in the attic that likely need an extra layer of insulation to help keep the cold air out. Should be interesting to see how difficult it could be to reach those second floor corners. 

As for running, I have committed to training for the Rocky Raccoon 50 (RR50) down in Huntsville, TX. next February. This will be my first "real" ultra. The Rocky is a longstanding event and I fully expect a great adventure. So far there are two other fellas from these parts registered along with me, Mike Rush and David Newman. Hopefully we can recruit a couple more before registration closes. What this means is plenty of miles that need to be covered over the winter. My plan is a mix of training schedules but will basically consist of 55-65 miles weekly. Doubles or back to back long runs on the weekends will be the focus building up to something like a 30/20 double to ring in 2012 on New Years weekend. During the week I will do one "hot" or tempo run in the 6-7 mile range as part of a longer mid week middle distance run. The other days will be recovery runs in the 6 mile range at easy pace. Speed sessions will be put on hold until March and the approach of the Bentonville Running Festival. I am fortunate to have some veteran ultra runners I can seek advice from and I have already. There are just a couple of details in my race strategy that I need to experiment with during training and I'll have that part nailed down. My diet needs to get back on track as does a more regular sleep pattern. My circadian rhythm has been trashed by attempting to watch previously recorded movies so I can clean up my DVR. To help with the training I have made a few purchases to make the cold weather running more enjoyable. A Brooks jacket, a pair of Salomon tights, Pearl Izumi compression shorts and awaiting my new Saucony Peregrine trail shoes. All that remains is a good pair of gloves once the weather truly turns cold. A little new gear always gets me stoked. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Examination of a DNF

In my last entry I mentioned my first DNF but didn't really offer any insight into what happened. I have had some inquiries from concerned buddies. So I thought I would delve in and see what I could find. Perhaps writing it out may serve some purpose for me. First off, I must say that beyond a bit of disappointment it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I went to the Turkey and TATURS 50k with pretty much one goal in mind. And that was to run a big time PR at that distance. Something in the 90 minute range, around 6 hours. I was also expecting an age group placing and even a top ten overall finish. Allow me to set the stage for you...

I was coming off of a 38 minute PR in the marathon after Twin Cities. I ran that one hard but felt afterwards that I could have gone faster. Not by much, just a little. So I knew my cardio was good to go. I picked TNT a mere four weeks after Twin Cities. In retrospect that seems pretty close together. Lesson #1, check. Note to self, you are not Superman. You are a forty-something year old guy still getting back into consistent running after taking several years off. I used a Hal Higdon "bridge" schedule I found on line as a guide to my training between events. What had started out as as bridge to the Williams 66 Marathon in Tulsa, a 7 week bridge, turned into the 4 week program after some buddies backed out of Tulsa. So what does one do to train in just 4 weeks between a marathon and a 50k? Well, pretty much 2 weeks of recovery and 2 weeks of taper. When I decided on TNT I was beginning week 3 so I had about 12 days left before the 50k. I hit the trails and did a few runs in the 6-8 mile range on some local routes. My longest run during the 4 weeks was a 13 mile road run at the end of the second week. While my trail runs were short I ran them hard and settled in on a pace that would get me my big time PR. And it felt very doable. I was confident...

Perhaps too confident. Lesson #2, check. Note to self, check your ego at the start line. Never take anything for granted. I had pounded the asphalt all summer preparing for Twin Cities and all but abandoned the trails. Specificity of training and all that. Lesson #3, check. Note to self, a few trail runs is not nearly enough, for me, to prepare for a 50k trail run, regardless of my cardio base. I didn't know the course well enough. I assumed that, being so close to home, that the terrain would be largely like it is around here. Wrong! Lesson #4, check. Note to self, know thy course and plan accordingly. This course was much more technical than I anticipated. Sure I read the description on the event website that mentioned something about being technical but, c'mon, it's Tulsa for crying out loud. For all my NWA friends, let me share something with you. If you plan on going over to a TATUR event at Turkey Mountain be prepared or this big ol' hill on the banks of the Arkansas River will kick your ass. Nice, large rocks stuck in the ground, lots of elevation change, from rollers to that steep power line road and lots of leaves to cover those rocky sections. Despite the technical nature I tried to hold my pace. Lesson #5, check. Note to self, technical terrain is more difficult to run. Thus, a slower pace is in order for a long run. I should have been willing to adapt more quickly and realize the big picture for the day. But I just finished a great marathon so how hard could it be to run a little more distance at a slower pace? I began to feel that "thing" about halfway through the race. You know, that feeling of "Oh shit! This is could be a looonng day." But I pushed on. Note to self, revisit Lesson #2. At the turnaround one of my buddies, Christian (who dominated the 10k and set a CR) asked me how I was feeling. I told him my legs were a little tired but I felt good. I lied. By that point I knew it was going to be a grind. However, in true ultra runner fashion I continued on. At the same pace, hoping to push through this low spot. After a few more miles it didn't get better. In fact it only got worse. By this point I knew I was a in trouble. I had managed to more or less keep a steady pace for 22 miles. One that would have given me that huge PR I wanted at the start despite knowing for the last several miles that I was likely writing a check I couldn't cash. And when Turkey Mountain demanded payment that check immediately bounced higher than Robert Downey Jr. on a dime bag and a can of Tiger Blood. Lesson #6, check. Note to self, allow the PRs, medals and trophies to come to you. Go out and run your race and see what happens. 

I can also say, looking back, that I was likely not hydrating or fueling well enough during the run. I can also say that my diet and sleeping habits were not all that great leading up to the race. I had allowed myself to slip after Twin Cities as a sort of reward. Also, I was on my feet all day the day before at the zoo with the kids. A good time but not ideal the day before an ultra. Finally, I had a crappy hand dealt that day. Not every race is gonna be a PR. Some days it simply doesn't happen. Lesson, check. Blah, blah, blah. I really think it boils down to this: I wasn't ready for this race. I hadn't prepared correctly, I was over confident and perhaps not recovered from Twin Cities. I was greedy with my strategy and unwilling to change anything when I realized it simply wasn't my day. I am still a baby when it comes to distance running. I should be thinking of ultras as more of an event and less like a race. I'm not an elite runner. I am, on my best day, a midpack guy when it comes to distances over 13 miles. Here's a post I saw on the Ultra Runner Podcast facebook page a couple of days after my race that sums it up. The question was "What is the best piece of running/ultra advice you ever received?" Melissa Johnson (who won the Vibram beer coasters in this contest) replied:

‎"Don't be greedy." 
"With what? My time, my body, race entries?" I asked. 
The old-timer's response - "With all of it. It takes time to grow in this sport. Earn your place."

So my DNF doesn't really bother me. I went out with one goal in mind and it didn't work out. I decided, with no regrets, to call it a day rather than go through a 7 mile death march to the finish. I didn't have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I had learned my lessons. Over the last two, dreadful miles I covered they all went through my head. I knew the mistakes I had made. I am not upset about it or overly concerned of some inability to cover that distance. Next year I would like to return to Tulsa, prepared and minus the ego, and see what happens. No expectations, just a long run through the woods with a bunch of fun folks. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Turkey & TATURS Race Report

Yesterday a group of Rush Runners convened on Turkey Mountain in the pre dawn darkness to take on the TATUR (Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra Runners) sponsored Turkey & TATURS events. There were two entrants each from our group for the 10k and 25k races and three signed up for the 50k, including me. It was more or less an impromptu group effort I dubbed Team Rush/(479). Turkey Mountain is a great expanse of urban wilderness south of downtown Tulsa that runs along the west side of the Arkansas River. Miles and miles of trails are available and open to hikers, runners, bikers and walkers. The start finish line was at the back of the West Side YMCA parking lot. Not an easy place to find even for folks from Tulsa, like my cab driver. Or Drew, who got lost and showed up as the 50k racers took off down the trail. He still had to check in, get a bib and chip. More on that later...
Jenny Scott celebrating her victory like a champ.
Christian Moore with a $100 smile.

First the story of the 10k. Christian Moore and Jenny Scott boldly through down the gauntlet of announcing their intentions of not merely winning but setting course records in the process. Jenny was a bit reluctant to join us at first so the pot of enticement was sweetened. As if it is not enough to hang out with us for the day? So Drew made an offer to cover the entry fee in return for half the winning pot if she claimed victory. I added a dozen farm fresh eggs delivered weekly for the rest of the year if she won and set a new CR. She took the bait. So all Jenny did was go out and win the the women's division (beating the second place gal by 8 seconds) and in doing so set a new CR, eclipsing the existing record by just under a minute. Christian blazed to glory crushing the men's CR and his competition. Eleven minutes before the next guy crossed the line. Are you serious? And it was the first time either won a cash prize. Congrats to you both on a dominating duo. Here is the newly posted current CR times from the TATUR website:
10K Men's - 42:32 (6:51 pace)  - Christian Moore- 2011
10K Women's - 56:03 (9:02 pace) -  Jenny Scott- 2011

David enjoying the post race prize.

On to the 25k event with David Smith and Michael Harris representing the (479). Both David and Michael were out there to have fun and enjoy the adventure. Michael ran a super solid race finishing top ten overall and second in his division with a sub 3 hour effort. When I passed him going out for my second circuit he looked like he was having a good time. David Newman also ran a sub 3 hour time placing him in the top fifteen overall and fourth in his age group. David is training for a marathon next month back in Alabama and was convinced to run the 25k trail race in place of a scheduled long road run. Glad he made the trip over the Tulsa with us. 

As for the 50k, well, stuff happens. OK, back to Drew. It's maybe 15 minutes before the start and he and Jenny are no where to be seen. Christian got him on the phone and Drew is somewhere in the darkness with no idea of where to go. Like I mentioned, not an easy place to find, even with GPS. So all of us 50k runners line up for the start. Drew comes tearing into the parking lot. Door flies open on the pimpalicious red Beamer and Drew pours out half dressed. As I pass him I yelled out "I'm beating Drew Conner, Muhahahha!" I'm sure that made him feel better. I felt pretty confident heading into this one. After all, I had set a significant marathon PR at Twin Cities last month and won my first race (a two miler) two weeks after that. In the four weeks in between the marathon and 50k I had managed to get some decent trail time in my training. My expectations for TATUR was a huge PR for the distance, place in my age group and possibly a top ten overall finish. I had Hugo Mendez (of Inca Runners) with me and even though we had not discussed and strategy I figured we would be good to go together for most of the race. At the Hobbs Tail Twister 50k this past summer we ran several miles together. Each pushing the other as needed, until I took off about mile 20 or so, only to have Hugo roll by as I sat at the last aid station (mile 28) crapped out. It took me almost an hour to muster enough energy and will power to get up and finish that one. I had picked out a pace time for me I thought I could hold. One that would give me that big PR, a good chance of placing in my age group and a crack at the top ten overall.  In a nutshell the course, in my opinion, was well marked. One of the TATUR members went out a couple of hours before the start, in the dark, to check all of the markings. Also, in my opinion, the course was tougher than I expected. Overall it is a great course due to the diversity of trails. Sections of very runner friendly single track, very little paved stuff, a portion of power line "road" (steep) and some pretty wicked technical sections complicated by the camouflage of recently fallen leaves. It was the technical stuff that threw me off. I found it harder to keep pace in these sections. Duh! I hit every aid station stopping for a moment, chatted with the volunteers, grabbed a couple of fig newtons or pretzels and to refill my handheld before taking off. I used a gel every hour along with a S! Cap and was taking in what I thought was enough fluid. By mile 13 I started to feel my quads and my right foot getting sore. Right under the arch. Brief visions or a grind began to invade my head. At the turnaround I'm pretty sure I entertained the thought of inquiring about switching to the 25k and calling it a day. I loaded a packet of Orbana energy drink into my handheld and began my second circuit of the 25k course (in reverse). The technical section right after the turnaround was tough for me. My legs were feeling pretty dead. I thought if I could slog through it perhaps the pendulum might swing the other way before too long. It didn't. I suffered a sweet wipe out about mile 18, banging my knee and busting my hand, but worst of all, tweaking my back. I was pissed. I pushed through to mile 22 before giving in and taking an extended walk break. I then alternated running and walking for nearly two more miles before a TATUR runner came up behind me. He stopped and chatted with me for a moment to check on me. He said the next aid station was a couple of miles away. I decided then I was done. I didn't care to begin a 10 mile death march. I found a nice, big flat rock and spread out on it flat on my back. Felt good. A few minutes later a fella came walking down the trail He was a volunteer at the next aid station. Only about a quarter mile up the trail. So I walked in with him. Sat down (yes, I know) and explained my situation. I asked for 15 minutes to sit, drink and eat before officially dropping or continuing on. After my break there was no spark so I dropped and was given a ride to the finish. Same old usual suspects, out a bit too fast pace wise, not enough fluids (pretty dehydrated), bonked from too little calories taken in, underestimating the course and perhaps overestimating my readiness. 
Drew, maybe you could have gone faster with shoes?

Hugo, the Iron Man performance of the day.

So back to the finish I went where I was able to see my wife and kids. It was so nice to have them there and get some hugs when needed. I grabbed the cooler of beer and headed over to the gang. Where was Drew? Nobody had seen him finish yet. He passed me about mile 3 or so, prancing up the hill like a deer on his way to chase down the leaders after his late start. Again I saw him a couple miles before my turnaround. He was maybe a quarter mile behind the leader and his pace looked great. While I was at the AS where I dropped I saw Drew about that same distance behind the leader coming up the power line section. That would have been about mile 27 or 28 for them. By the time I got a ride to the finish a couple of guys had already finished the 50k. Long story short, Drew took a wrong turn near the top of the power line section. About three miles into the turn he realized his mistake. Back tracked, found an aid station and ran in with another 50k runner for 7th place overall. Total distance for him was 60k in under 6 hours. Hugo was perhaps a half mile or so ahead of me before I ran into trouble. My son and I went down to the trail head to wait for Hugo to come out of the woods. As he did we cheered him on, passed out some high fives and rejoined our group. Hugo grinded out the last several miles for a PR of thirty minutes. He then swore off ever doing that course again. 

As for me, you can tell I am all tore up about my first DNF. I look at it as a bad day out on the trail. And that beats a good day sitting on your can in front of the TV. I got to hang with some cool people, run some sweet trail, have a cold beer, celebrate some CRs, get dirty and stinky, fall down, have some laughs and enjoy some time with my family. We spent Saturday at the Tulsa Zoo, the kids got to go swimming at the hotel before bedtime and again after breakfast and then had fun on the playground at the YMCA. Oh yeah, around midnight on Saturday we got to experience the largest recorded earthquake in Oklahoma history. 

TATUR put on a good event with fantastic volunteers. I look at them as a big group of folks that just enjoy running and sharing that gift with others. Will I seek redemption next year? Dunno. What I will do is once again file away the lessons learned into my runner's toolbox. Determine what needs to be tweaked and set about to correct those flaws. And I'll be looking for the next adventure for Team Rush/(479). Congrats to everyone and thanks for being a part of the fun. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CLIF Bar Review

Back in September I entered a giveaway on the Running and Rambling website (see header above) for CLIF bars. Click the link for the original blog post. This was for a mix of new flavors for different products. I have long been a fan of CLIF bar. Back in my college days when I started MTB riding there was one choice, Powerbar. Now don't get me wrong, I was thankful to have something like that but they looked awful and heavens forbid trying to eat one if it was cold outside. So when CLIF bars made their debut it was quite nice. These babies featured organic ingredients, whole grains, fiber and a decent punch of protein. And as a company CLIF gives back to the sports community and supports some worthy endeavors. More recently while shopping for peanut free granola bars for my son (required at his school) I found the CLIF Z bar a perfect solution. The icing on the cake is that my son really likes them. 
In my box there were 3 different kinds of CLIF bars. Three traditional bars, three Mojo bars and two Crunch bars. I need to make full disclosure on something that undoubtedly influenced my review. I am not a fan of coconut. Hasn't always been that way. All my life I was a take it or leave it kinda guy in regards to coconut. Until a couple of years ago when I came down with a full blown case of influenza. And as luck would have it my last snack was several coconut macaroon cookies. I'll spare you the details but suffice to say that coconut bits coming out your nose is not pleasant. Ever since that I have experienced a complete aversion to coconut. And wouldn't you know it two of the new flavors were coconut something. I think I can be objective but there you go. There's not much to say about an energy bar. Either you like it or you don't. Pretty simple really. 

For the CLIF bars the flavors were Coconut Chocolate Chip, Apricot and Peanut Toffee Buzz. Let me get the bad news out of the way. The Coconut Chocolate Chip, which I ate today after an eleven mile trail run, was my least favorite. Even the chocolate chip part of it was not enough to save it in my book. Too much of a coconut taste for me. That was a tough one. Thank goodness I had a full bottle of Nuun handy. Now, if you dig coconut and chocolate chips, then I'm sure this is for you. As far as the Apricot bar I was pleasantly surprised. Apricot is another flavor I can do without but here it worked for me. I remember as a kid my mom getting those tins of dried apricots during the holidays and trying to pass them off on us kids as a candy substitute or something. Party foul. I could do this bar again however. Hands down my favorite of these was the Peanut Toffee Buzz. What is the Buzz all about? Caffeine baby. In here it comes in the form of green tea extract (a good anti-oxidant) and is equal to 50mg of caffeine. Of course you can't taste caffeine. But the taste of this bar was the best of the three in my opinion. 
Next up is the Crunch bars. This was my first go at these. Think old school granola bars. The kind that require some effort to eat and, well, go crunch. Unfortunately for me during the shipping of my prize pack the Crunch bars were apparently handled pretty rough. When I opened them it was more like a chunky cereal instead of a bar. Nonetheless, they were both pretty good. The Blueberry Crisp had a hint of blueberry flavor. Just enough to notice. Thumbs up here. I have to give the nod here though to the Chocolate Peanut Butter. I mean, come on, who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter together? In my opinion you couldn't go wrong with any of the six flavors the Crunch bars come in. 
Last up are the Mojo bars. I have enjoyed these before as I love the whole salty/sweet thing. These bars feature whole nuts packed in with sweet goodness. A trail mix bar on the go. My selections were White Chocolate Macadamia, Chocolate Almond Coconut and Dipped S'mores. I have to say that the one with coconut flavor was actually pretty good. Not nearly as much of a coconut vibe as the one earlier. This one I could actually enjoy. In fact, the Mojo bars were by far my favorite. And the best of the best was the Dipped S'mores. It was like a little package of heaven after a long run when I want to get some carbs and a little protein in my system to kick start my recovery. CLIF has hit a homerun with these. 

I have to thank Donald over at Running and Rambling for the chance at the giveaway. His blog is one that a regularly follow and it is full of good stuff. I highly recommend you go on over and check it out. And kudos to CLIF for putting a quality product out there and for having a good corporate conscience. 

Upcoming product reviews (from more giveaways) include Health Warrior Chia Seeds and Orbana energy drink (once again from Donald). But my next entry will likely be a race report from the Turkey-n-Taturs 50k in a couple of weeks. Until then, keep it easy, light and smooth. Cheers. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ACOI Conference Notes & Race Report

So a few weeks ago, my wife, the lovely Dr. Reeves, tells me that I am welcome to attend a medical conference with her. Here is the skinny. It is the annual meeting of the American College of Osteopathic Internists. It is in San Antonio. At the new Marriot Hill Country Resort & Spa. And it will be a kid free, four day weekend covering our 15th wedding anniversary. Bingo! To make things even better, I am given clearance from the tower to go for a daily run and participate in the Friday Fun Run Race or as I called it, the Doctor Dash. Booyah! But more on the race later. The photo above is the view from the resort as the sun rose after the race. The course wound down the hill and into the canyon where the fog is settled.

My plan was to attend some lectures, get some runs in and otherwise relax. During the welcome dinner we met Cynthia, a doc from NYC that serves the Chinatown area. Turns out her husband is an avid runner and is working on his membership in the 50 States marathon club and wants to start running ultras. They even spent their honeymoon running Antartica (marathon for him, half for her). Back to the conference. The focus this year is on obesity. A rising epidemic not only in our country but around this big blue marble we all live on and call home. At least it was a topic of interest to me and not something like arthritis. I have had an interest in obesity which was only sharpened the more I searched for ways to improve my running performance and overall health. Books I read such as The China StudyEating Well for Optimum Health and Proof Positive helped me understand the nutrition side of the equation. Now thanks to running and some personal philosophy I consider myself to be a bit smarter than the average bear when it comes to nutrition. So naturally I'm interested in the conference lectures. Following are some of the  more interesting points I jotted down from the lectures. Again, I am not a medical expert so these notes are written in a manner that made sense to me. However, I have included the speaker's info for reference.

At breakfast the first day I attended an interesting lecture. The speaker had the audience think of the known history of man as a single 24 hour period. In terms of obesity the initial 23 plus hours are remarkably unremarkable. But about 23h45m the agricultural era is born and shortly after that the industrial period. Both of these would have a significant impact on obesity. In the last 15 seconds of the day, say since about 1980, obesity has exploded. Think about it. The invention of processed and frozen foods to be mass produced. Food packed in cans, wrapped in plastic, boxed up and shipped from the factory right to your local big box, mega retail grocery outlet. Just rip it open, pop it in the microwave and eat.

I'm 40 something and grew up eating mostly home cooked meals. Fast food joints were a luxury to us. A treat for special events. Most of the food we brought home from the store had to be eaten before it spoiled. Most of it didn't have an extended shelf life. Foods are now more calorie dense than before with the processed ingredients. Even something as simple as beef, no longer holistically pasture raised, now contains more fat and cholesterol with less protein and nutrients. Not to mention the addition of growth hormones and antibiotics. And to make matters worse portion sizes have ballooned. Lumberjack sized servings are now normal. Today's kid meal was yesterday's full size adult meal. And to top it all off, study after study shows a dramatic decrease in the amount of regular physical exercise people get in our world today.

Some interesting tidbits from the same lecture. Babies breastfed longer than 12 months have a markedly reduced incidence of obesity as adults. Adequate sleep on a regular basis helps keep people at a more ideal, age appropriate weight. The magic time being the often suggested 8 hours nightly for adults. For kids the number is 10 hours per night. This last one is the most surprisingly to me. Obesity is contagious. It has been documented that individuals who have close social relationships with someone who is obese, a spouse, sibling, parent or close friend, are more likely to suffer from obesity. In my mind the opposite is true. A person who is surrounded by fit folks, maybe runners, is more likely to be a more fit and healthy person.

Mia Taormina D.O.
Has Obesity Gone Viral
Guess how many U.S. states have an obese population of less than 20 percent? Zero. That's right. An epidemic of obesity is spreading across the U.S. at an alarming rate. Is there a viral etiology? Yes, in humans there are three different adenoviruses that have been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity. These viruses can result in suppressed immune function and the accumulation of body fat without an increase in caloric intake. Both bloodborne and airborne transmission of the viruses has been observed in animal studies. Infected lab subjects experienced a rapid and significant body mass increase. Does the gut flora on these subjects differ? Yes. There are between 15k-32k different kinds of flora in your gut. Some are good to have and others not so much. Studies suggest that some flora are more efficient at processing calories (gram negative) than others (gram positive). High GI tract flora is generally better than low GI tract flora. Your gut flora composition is more or less set by the age of 1. Think about that. This is why breast feeding beyond 12 months has repeatedly been shown to have huge benefits for a child. High fat, processed foods can shift gut flora over time to a more gram negative environment. Gram negative flora is able to extract more calories from ingested food. This can be reversed over time to more gram positive that includes more pre and pro biotic friendly flora with a healthy, whole food, plant based diet. For an individual predisposed to obesity (ad+) what this means is that their calorie in/calorie out equation requires more work to be effective. In other words, that individual has to work harder to maintain a healthy weight and BMI. 

George Bray M.D.
Obesity: From Here to There
If you keep your weight in check or are working towards a healthy weight you enjoy a lower risk of death due to multiple comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, pulmonary disease, hypertension and such. Likewise, you will have less risk of conditions such as diabetes (type II), high cholesterol and sleep apnea. That all sounds good to me. In a nutshell achieving a healthy weight and maintaining it comes down to just one thing and one thing only. There is no magic pill. No surgery that will make the problem go away. Sure, there are things a doctor or surgeon can do to assist an individual. But more than one of the guest lecturers simply stated: one must burn more calories than is taken in. Period. You wanna lose weight? That's the plan. Switching to a more healthy diet (low fat, whole foods, plant based) will lower your caloric intake. On that note my main source of runner friendly food advice is Matt Frazier and company over at No Meat Athlete. Add in some exercise and you will be well on your way.

I also need to mention a keynote speaker by the name of Eric Greitens. Former Navy Seal, Rhodes Scholar, best selling author and CEO of The Mission Continues. Eric spoke about his journey from Navy Seal to Humanitarian as outlined in his book The Heart and The Fist. Through his leadership at The Mission Continues military veterans (wounded and disabled) are awarded fellowships to serve in their communities. Several life changing stories were shared. This book is at the top of my must read list.

That's me above at The Alamo. As a Texas raised boy I had to post this. Note to self, next time take the water bottle out of your pocket. Now the race report. Apparently at each convention a small fun run 4 mile race is held. I told my wife to sign me up. I also mentioned that there was a pretty good chance I might win (given the likely small field and lack of fast runners). She just rolled her eyes. The race was Friday morning. I got down to the lobby early enough prior to the 0630 start and got in some warm up time. After getting the sleep shaken off I went back into the lobby to get out of the chilly breeze. I met another participant and we got to chatting. Before I knew it 0630 rolled around and we were the only ones there. We rushed to the other end of the resort where the conference desk was located. We asked about the race and were told they had already left. We rushed outside and found a group of about 50-60 runners ready to go and getting last minute directions from the leader. All I heard was something about running down to the end of TPC Parkway and returning to the resort. That meant running about 1 mile down the hill and then turning back, twice. Then two groups were split up, those in the 2 mile and those in the 4 mile race. I slid over to the 4 mile group. Then it was 3-2-1 Go! So I did. Immediately a fella in a Mother Road Marathon shirt from last year (I ran that marathon too) shot off like a bullet across the parking lot. I quickly settled in to what I thought was as fast a pace as I could hold for 4 miles. What exactly that was I have no idea because it was too dark to see my watch. In short order the lead runner put  a decent gap on me and another guy that was right on my shoulder. I peeked back and saw it looked like a 3 person race. However, I also realized that the guy in the lead was out of my league if he maintained that pace. I'm guessing he was a 6:00 or so and I felt my max would be about 7:00 considering I had run 6 hilly miles fairly hard the day before and was still recovering from Twin Cities Marathon. As we approached the turnaround I got a good look at the leader. His pace had slowed noticeably. With a mile of uphill next I thought I had a chance if I pushed it. So I did. I caught and passed him over the next quarter mile and pulled away. As I did the guy that had been on my shoulder faded away in the darkness. Just when I thought I was in the clear I heard footsteps from behind and they were coming fast. A quick glance revealed a new face. And it was young and belonged to a guy that looked like he had legs and plenty of gas left in the tank. OK, about a half mile left, just push it a bit and see if he hangs. He did. A quarter mile left to the resort and then another lap. That last quarter is up a nice kicker and back across the parking lot. I was gassed. I knew if he made a move that I would likely not have an answer so I went all in and began a tired kick. He just stayed right on my shoulder. We got back to the start and I decided, right then and there, that 2 miles at max effort was good enough for me today and stopped. He stopped with me and I shook his hand telling him I thought he had me. As we each caught our breath over the next minute or two the original leader came around and started his second lap. Then the guy that stopped with me looks up and asks if that was 4 miles. I told him no, just 2 miles. He wanted to do the 4 and took off. In the end he passed the leader and won the 4 mile race. So why did I drop to the two? Well, my legs were dead. My time was 13:18 for the race, a 6:39 pace. That's 20 seconds faster per mile than my best 5k to date. I know I would not have been able to keep that pace up for another 2 miles. At worst I think I would have finished third and likely second. But since the last race I won was probably back in third grade, circa 1976, I decided a "W" would be nice. And as Mike Rush told me, "A win is a win. I don't care if it was only two people." So I'll take it and the shiny Italian made gold medal. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Brooks Pure Project Review

I was pretty excited about the release of the Brooks Pure Project line. If you read these two earlier posts you may have a better idea why. The first is on my transition from traditional training shoes to more minimalist whips and this one explains the why. So when Drew from Rush Running Co sent me a text a few days before the official release letting me know the shoes had arrived and I was welcome to come take a look I jumped at the chance. I arrived and started checking them out. Out of the box I really liked the look. But before I could get much more into it a few more locals showed up including a couple of other TCM runners, an AT100 entrant and a Pinhoti 100 racer (and shoe designer). So Drew and Christian lined the new arrivals out for us to begin our impromptu round table discussion. 
It was agreed that all four models look great. Words like, fast, aggressive, sleek and low were used. But where is the posting? There is none. We were informed that Brooks, for this project, has thrown out the typical categories of stability and control. Theoretically, at least, anybody can wear any of these models and be just fine. Let the debate begin... I could care less about the marketing plan so I grabbed a pair and laced up. The Pure Cadence was first up. Snug fit, great feel, lightweight, plenty of cushion. Soft but not too much. I did notice a bit extra stretch in my Achilles and calf. My premonition to allow some time to transition to these as my mainstay shoe seems spot on at first. 
I look up and see Ryan (the Pinhoti 100 entrant and shoe designer) headed for the treadmill. Not sure which model he had on. The video gait recorder was turned on and off he went. The slow-mo replay showed good results with just a slight overpronation on one foot. Mike (owner of Rush Running and former NCAA runner) was next in a pair of Pure Flow. No issues with him but he is neutral anyway. I tried the treadmill next, all signals were good, nothing seemed too weird. So now some post run (sort of) analysis. Ryan and I both had extra gap with the Nav Band that goes across the top of the foot to help with the fit. We both have skinnier than normal feet. Mine was loose, his was useless. Nonetheless, we both felt the uppers fit snugly despite this. I liked the laces, a flat snake like design. They seem like they would work well not coming untied. Next we all check out the split toe design. None of us felt it while running on the treadmill. Mike thought it was more aesthetic and less functional. That it didn't come down far enough toward the mid foot to offer any real benefit. At least it will save a little weight with the missing material. 
Next  tried on the Grit. No rock plate and a little toe guard. Otherwise the fit and feel was much like the Flow. Comfortable, cushioned, light, snug and responsive feeling. The treadmill test for this model went much like the Flow. All signs point to yes. I wondered about the tread on the outsole as it looked pretty minimal. How would it work on technical stuff or when wet? It looks somewhat similar to the tread on my Pearl Izumi Iso Seek shoes which serves me pretty well. I could just barely feel the midfoot pod on this model. Nothing too weird but just barely noticeable. I can see the Grit being a solid door to trail shoe and a good all around trail shoe short of perhaps wet and technical terrain. 
All models have a 4-5mm heel drop and sit lower to the ground than most other shoes. These are Jurek inspired designs two years in the making. Jurek says these belong somewhere in the middle of the minimalist spectrum. Somewhere between the Saucony Kinvara and New Balance 890. In the end Ryan wants to try both the Flow and Grit. Mike wants the Flow for Twin Cities opting for them over the just arrived K Swiss Kwicky Blade and I was undecided between the Flow and Cadence. 
Fast forward a week. I haven't heard from Ryan yet. Mike did wear the Flow at TCM and at the finish line he gave a thumbs up on them. He had a chance to maybe put 25 miles or so on them before the race. No complaints from him. I picked up my shoes that week. I opted for the Flow. Mainly because of the $30 price difference. Why that much I can't explain. Drew said he took home a pair of Grit and wore them for a 14 mile trail run from his door. He did wear them just walking around for a day before. He told me that about halfway through his run he did feel a twinge in his soleus. Like me he thinks a transition from regular shoes does exist with the Pure Project line. Otherwise a stamp of approval from him. Drew is the Manager at Rush, ran college x-country, is a regular on the local racing scene and can often be found on the podium collecting his hardware. So he knows a thing or two about good shoes. He said they even felt good on the pavement getting to the trail head for his run. 
As for me, I wore my Flow six days after finishing my PR in the 26.2 at TCM for a 6 mile recovery run. Again, the shoes felt great, no issues at all with the fit or feel. My impression of these somehow promoting a mid foot strike seemed accurate. I did not feel the split toe feature at all on my run. No weird feelings in my calves or Achilles either. However, I did feel a tweak in my plantar on one foot. I attribute this to the marathon (completed in racing flats for the first time) and not to the Flow. In all fairness though I felt I should mention it. These shoes seem to have enough arch support in them so time will tell on that issue. A post run inspection did show something I should mention. With the design of the heel and less material used repetitive heel strikes might wear these shoes down faster than your normal trainer. I have a bit of a whip with my stride on my right foot and my legs were still a little dead from the marathon so I think this may explain the wear I saw on my shoe after a six mile run. Apparently I was dragging my heel. Tired legs and a slower than normal pace likely resulted in less than ideal form and me shuffling more than striding as usual. 
More on the heel design. The heels compared to most shoes have a slightly angled design at the very back. Not flat like most trainers. I could just feel it when I first put them on but that sensation quickly faded. And being a more minimalist design there is less material (outsole) back there. So if you plan on using a solid heel strike or drag your heels when tired expect on replacing these more often than say a pair of Ravennas. To recap: I really like the fit and feel of the upper. The laces work well without having to double tie them or use some secret Inca knot, the Nav Band is marginally functional for skinny feet, well cushioned but not overly so, felt light and responsive, didn't feel the split toe thing and love the color scheme. So much better than the Racer ST. These will surely be a mainstay in my rotation once I transition and I look forward to building up my mileage in these.
Update 10/12/2011: Last weekend I wore my Pure Flows to my first overall win at a race taking 1st at the ACOI San Antonio 2 Mile Doctor Dash. I have a few more runs under my belt and really like these shoes. My next purchase will undoubtedly be the Pure Grit.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TCM Race Report Pt II

TCM Race Report Pt II

Pt II is less about the race and more about the experience. TCM was not on the radar as summer rolled around. A number of friends were already signed up but I had my sights set instead on a couple of trail ultras for the fall. Those being the Bass Pro Dogwood Canyon 50k in Lampe, MO and the Rock Creek Lookout Mt 50 Miler in Tennessee. Things changed. I spent some time in Joplin, our former hometown, following the devastating May tornado. A humbling experience. My first day back in NWA my buddy Brian and I went for a run. He suggested TCM again for the umpteenth time. After the run we stopped at Rush Running for a visit and Mike Rush was in the house. He got on me about joining the group headed North to Minnesota. I decided to jump in with them. A couple of hours later Mike sent a message that the marathon was full and registration was closed. I thought I was off the hook. No deal. Mike suggested I contact the RD and give some sob story. I didn't need a story. I had been in Joplin cleaning up after the F5 tornado and missed my chance to register. But I did email the race admin and quickly got a reply from a staffer named Lindsey. She explained that every staff member is given a guaranteed entry for each of the events Twin Cities in Motion organizes throughout the year for personal use or to give to a family member or friend. For the marathon she wanted to give me her spot. Back on the hook I go. 
This once normal American neighborhood was wiped off the earth by the tornado but pride still pulsed through these resilient Joplin residents. 

The Boomtown Half scheduled for 6/11/11 was cancelled due to the tornado. Starting in 2012 it will be named the Joplin Memorial Run. So instead of running the race hundreds of runners and volunteers showed up for a Day of Service on race day. That's me in the area just East of the Joplin High School in front of what was once a house. The effort was harder than any two hour run but so much more rewarding. 

The impromptu duct tape job at Joplin High School still stands. Eagle Pride. 

A training plan was hatched and we began the grind of pounding the pavement in what turned out to be a record setting heat wave and drought through the summer. The long runs were not fun. Monday nights at the track for weeks working on speed and strength. Tempo runs and hill work at Crystal Bridges and Slaughter Pen. Needless to say I went through a load of nuun tablets and developed a love of S! Caps (electrolytes on the go) and Slather (to prevent blisters and chaffing). I logged my first 60 mile week (twice) and completed some pretty good back to back long runs and discovered the joy of foam rolling. I took part in some great tune up races in the area and felt confident about my conditioning as the Summer came to a close. But the best part was being able to spend plenty of time with some fantastic NWA runners out on the roads. 

As departure for Twin Cities approached my knee began to rebel and my travel partner, Jason Knight (sub 3 hour marathoner), came down with a wicked case of PF in one foot. Jason nursed it for a while but decided the best course of action for him would be to sit this one out. My knee (torn lateral meniscus) was uber swollen and stiff. I considered doing the same as Jason. With two weeks left to go I settled on just chillin' and seeing what happened with the knee. Dr. Roeder at Maximum Performance did his best to help things along and the foam roller was put into overdrive. I managed five runs and 32 miles the last 14 days and that was it. But with each day the knee felt better. But I needed a new travel partner. Robert Standridge and I ended up stuck with one another. Room, check. Vehicle, check. Map, check. 

We met out at our farm at 5 AM, packed the Mazda and set off. The plan was to meet up with Brian and his family on the road and caravan up together. Somewhere in the dark between Bella Vista and Joplin we passed Brian and never saw him again but we stayed in contact via calls and texts. We stopped every couple of hours to stretch the legs. Made it to KC pretty quickly and rolled on towards Des Moines. Stopped for lunch in West Des Moines looking for the Quizno's but couldn't find it. We decided on Fuddrucker's and paid $12 for crappy burgers (mine was a veggie burger). Next a stop a Trader Joe's across the road for snacks and back in the car. Iowa is damn boring to drive through. Lots of corn. And more corn. Long story short, we get to St. Paul and unload into the hotel about 5:30 that evening. While checking in Robert is told that the room he reserved is a king with a pull out bed. Wrong answer. The reservation was for a double. No dice. That is the only room available. I volunteer to take the pull out and we head up to the room. But not before I plead my case with the clerk. I explained how we had just driven 12 hours from Arkansas for the marathon. While I was OK with sleeping on a pull out bed tonight, it sure would be nice to sleep in a real bed the night before the race. She said she would see what she could do for us. Quickly drop our crap and head over to the expo for packet pick up. 

We get our essentials and walk through checking the booths. All the typical fare. Lots of running gear, upcoming races, training programs. I did get a cup of coffee and a Chobani yogurt. Then I saw the RockTape booth. I decided to inquire about taping for my knee. Before long I had a new, bright red tape job on. It must have looked good because next thing I know Robert is standing in line for one. Leave the expo, find supper at a local pizzeria and back to the hotel. As we are walking past the front desk we're told that we have a new room for the next night. A double. Nice. And good thing too because that pull out SUCKED! However, breakfast rocked (fresh waffle, cereal, hard boiled egg, banana, oatmeal, orange juice and a coffee). For most of the day we chilled, watching football, a nap and then changed rooms. 

That evening we met the entire group for a pre-race meal at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Minneapolis. The food was good and the company better. Thanks to Mike & Ali for taking care of the arrangements. And yes, I did drive on the rail tracks and down a one way road. Back to the hotel, prep all the race day gear, watch a little baseball (Go Rangers!) and catch some sleep. Morning broke about 5:30 for the 8 AM start. Chilly, about 41 degrees. A little breakfast (banana and some nuun) and we head out to the pick up point for the bus ride over to the start at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. We arrived about 6:45 and found a spot inside along the lower level walkway to stay warm and relax. I just walked around taking in the sights and sounds of first timers and grizzled veterans as I enjoyed my Rockstar Espresso energy drink. At 7:15 I down my Vespa and at 7:45 finish off my Access shake. I found Brian and Jesse, my running partners for the start, and headed out. On the way Brian had to pee, always does. The line to the Port-o-Pots was long so he found a white truck and stood from view behind it. Looked like he urinated two quarts. Like lemmings, we followed the crowd to the line and our corral. We stand and listen to some pre-race chatter on the PA. Brian has to pee, again. He sees a dumpster next to the start and heads that way. Must be contagious because Jesse heads behind him and then I have to go. We worked our way towards the front of corral #2 and I watched in amusement as an assortment of clothing (jackets, shirts, gloves, hats...) were being pulled off and thrown to the side over the fence. I consumed a Power Gel (tangerine flavor) and nearly gagged. First time trying that flavor and the last. My gear consisted of my Rush Racing singlet, Brooks Racer ST shoes, Pearl Izumi shorts, Asics compression briefs, Balaga socks, Zensah calf sleeves, my Inca Runners hat (thank you Hugo!), shades, Garmin 305, 4 GU gels (plain), a Vespa Ultra and a few S! Caps. 

The gun sounds for corral #1 and we move forward finalizing our pace strategy. The decision was made to stick together for the first 2-3 miles, going easy to warm up. No sense in fighting the crowd and wasting energy trying to run around folks. Handshakes and words of encouragement are exchanged. The music is blaring, we toe the line and BANG! we are off. Only took maybe a minute, if that, to cross the mat and start the journey. Quickly people are losing things: gels and energy bars, here and there someone is stopped dead adjusting an iPod or fiddling with that. We pick a line and roll out. As expected there are numerous folks blasting past us but we hold our pace. Within a half mile though Brian looks froggy and begins to pull away. Jesse and I hold fast. My hands are getting cold. I hate cold hands. I search the ground and sure enough find a pair of discarded gloves in short order. Grab 'em up and pull them on. These were truly a throw away pair as they were a mismatch. No worries, they filled the bill and my hands were happy. By now we have lost sight of Brian. By the time we hit the neighborhood about mile 2 we're both warmed up and feeling pretty good. My knee seems OK and Jesse's hamstrings (which had been an issue for a few weeks) were doing fine as well. We kept a rock steady pace at 8:50 per mile through the first several miles and were making serious efforts to run the tangents on the course. Along the way we picked up Dave and Amy, both runners from NWA. I had done a number of training runs with Amy and knew she would be a good fit into our group. 

About mile 10 I need to pee so I start doing recon on the port-o-pots along the course. All of them have lines. I don't want to lose my group and time this early so I soldier on. It quickly becomes a pressing matter. So I begin to scope the trees and bushes along the route. Unfortunately this part of the course runs through a large park area and there are spectators everywhere. I consider peeing in my shorts. No big deal. However, the thought occurs to me that it would probably run down my leg and into my shoes. Then there I'd be running with squishy shoes that smelled of urine for 15 miles. Approaching the halfway point I see my chance at the aid station ahead of us. I declare my intentions and pick up the pace to get ahead of the group. Just as I approach the port-o-pot and of course it is already occupied. So I step over to the table for some water and return. The pit stop maybe cost me two minutes in total. Back on the road I drop my pace for a mile or so before I catch sight of my group ahead of me and backed off the pace a bit. It took about 2.5 miles to hook back up with Jesse, Dave and Amy. When I did I realized that the slightly faster pace I had been running felt pretty good. By now I'm beginning to wonder if I should pull away and if so how soon? It didn't take long to get my answer but not in the way I expected. 

By now I was on GU #3 (used two of mine and one from an aid station) and I had hit every aid station with one cup of Powerade and two cups of water. I normally train with nuun tablets for fluids and have sworn off commercial sports drinks due to the refined sugars so I wanted to limit my intake of the Powerade. Good thing too as it was starting to warm up fairly quickly. The forecast was was warmer than usual temps as the day progressed. I was feeling good with one exception, a wicked ache in my abdomen from a sports hernia. It happens ever since the injury and surgery. Otherwise, physically, all systems were go. Good news as I was skeptical going in about my knee and calf.  I began to sense that I was pulling away from my group despite holding a steady pace. I was right. I looked behind and saw the gap. I kept going. In a few minutes I noticed someone in front of me, it was Brian, my main running buddy. He looked, well, bad. Holding his side and just shuffling along. As I passed I asked what was going on and he said he was cramping up, all over. I gave him a slap on the butt and kept going. Which was troubling to me. I know how much work he put into the race. I consider Brian a stronger runner than myself. If he can get tweaked what about me? There was no panic but it did make me think. I wanted to do more to help him but what? Do I sacrifice my race to all but stop and help my buddy 8 miles from the finish? While I am considering this question I notice another Rush jersey in front of me. It's Robert and he looks beat down. Another slap on the backside, a word of encouragement and I keep going. Within minutes the scene is repeated with me passing Donna about mile 20. By now I realize that I keep motoring along and do my race. With 10k to go I was facing my own issue. It was obvious that breaking the 3h45m mark was out the window. I had known that for a few miles now. Really once I stopped to pee that one was gone. I felt breaking the 4h mark for the first time was in the bag short of a complete meltdown. And on that note I felt covering the final 10k was all but a done deal based on how I felt at the time. So I could cruise in easy and meet my goal of breaking 4h or I could commit to work and see how close to 3h50m I could get. I looked at the runners around me and thought of my buddies I had just passed. I knew the answer. I was willing to work harder than these strangers around me. I was willing to hurt more than anyone of them. That's what I told myself. 

At this point I was just beginning what the locals call Little Heartbreak Hill. As the final turn is made toward the finish in St. Paul and you cross the bridge between miles 19 and 20 a drawn out climb begins that lasts about 5 miles. Not a steep "Oh Hell no!" climb but more of a slow, soul sucking ascent. On this course The Wall is somewhere on that hill. I knew I would have to use my arms and let my feet loose to keep the pace. I began to notice a lot of runners slowing down. The lines at aid stations (every mile now) growing longer with more people walking. I hold a line in the center of the road still focused on running tangents as much as possible. Forms and strides breaking down around me. The grimaced faces and looks of despair. It was getting downright warm by now too. I refused to allow myself to become on of "them". My mantra became "I'm willing to work. I'm willing to hurt." Finally about mile 25 along Summit Ave the crown of the hill passes and I saw the other side. A gentle downward slope to the finish. I can hear the PA and the large crowd cheering on the runners. A quick check of the watch and I see that breaking 3h55m is possible but I gotta go. Some guy pulls up on my left at a strong pace and I decide to follow him. We are maybe a mile from the finish so I figure maybe 8 minutes of work left. It felt great to finally have something left in the tank at the end of a marathon. So much better than blowing up and hobbling in. The pair of us are passing runners right and left. About 200 yards from the finish this guy takes off sprinting and I just held my pace, even remembering to take my shades off for the photo, crossing the finish line and nearly rear ending a group of five runners that had all stopped, side by side, under the banner. 

I go through the maze of getting the finisher medal, space blankets, drinks, food, and shirts that seemed to go on for a half mile before getting my drop bag. I just wanted to sit down for a minute and drink some water. I look at the massage tent, line way too long for me. I continue on to look for the Rush group and find them. Check on everyone there, handshakes, high fives and finally sit down. I took my shoes off. My feet were sore. First time I have worn a racing flat for a race. I had maybe 20 miles on those shoes before the race. Not the smartest move but I really do like the shoes now. So, feet sore, Achilles both sore, calves OK, knee not bad, hamstrings feel good, quads a bit shaky. More than anything just tired. Duh! I got back up on my bare feet and just slowly walked around in the grass. It felt good. Walk a little, drink a little. Repeat several times for maybe 20 minutes. I checked on my official chip time: 3h54m37s. Update my Twitter and FB status with the race results via my phone. Now, my Garmin shows a time of 3h53m57s and a distance of 26.47 miles. The 40s difference has to come from the pit stop at mile 13, that's a quick pee. And only a 1/4 mile of bonus mileage is more than acceptable to me. My slowest mile was 22, fastest mile 15. 

Post race analysis... Pacing was critical for me. I know I can go faster now. 3h50 minutes for sure and with a little work 3h45m. The fueling strategy worked well for me too. It was my first race to use Vespa. I had used it on only one training run. I have to say I think there might be something to this stuff. Warning: as bad as the regular Vespa taste, the ultra concentrate is foul. Reminded me of Long John Silver's malt vinegar. No issues with my energy level. I used a gel at approximately mile 5, 11, 17, 22 and another I can't remember when, maybe mile 20. Physically the worst I felt before a race but the best during and after. It's a good course, a few pot holes to fill in but that's about it. The most scenic road race course I have been on yet. Aid stations, great. Volunteers, super. Spectators, unreal. Estimated around 300k of them along the course. I believe it. For such a large event it is well organized. I expected that, they have had 30 years to get it down pat. Nice long sleeve tech shirt and uniquely designed medal after the finish. My one complaint was about the finish area. Too congested. I felt the traffic flow of humanity could have been handled a bit better. 

As the rest of the group wandered in plans were made for post race activities. Brian was nowhere to be found. He later told me that he spent some time in the medical tent. At the finish he was picking up a cup of water and fell dizzy into the table. At least he got a ride in a wheel chair to the tent. Then he was hand fed broth, got cold drinks, some food and a massage. He only took in water for the first 18 miles and his body was not happy. Not enough electrolytes my friend. I found Robert and we headed up the hill for the buses. Just as we reached the sidewalk I turned to see Robert bent over at the waist. Then he made his way to the ground. Then he barfed. Shouldn't have had that fruit cup after the finish. Apparently he had been dehydrated during the race and then overloaded on goodies just after the race. Gastric reject. On the bus and back to our car and out to the hotel. I was starving. That White Castle we passed was calling my name but Robert wasn't interested so we just made our way to the Best Western. Back at the room I made a bottle of nuun, grabbed an apple and a banana and turned on the TV. Robert headed to the hot tub. I headed to the bath tub. Filled with cold water. I soaked for about 15 minutes and then took a warm shower.  After that I hit the foam roller. Robert came back after hitting the hot tub, cool kiddie pool and the sauna. Of course we talked about the race, analyzing every little detail. I was bummed that some of the team blew up out on the course but happy that others had strong performances. I know there were at least a few PRs and a few first time finishes. 

As dinner time rolled around we decided to meet up in downtown Minneapolis. Eight of us ended up at the 8th St. Grill. I was going to indulge. Loaded potato skins, quesadillas and a big bowl of pasta. Dave shared his pizza with me too. And of course there were a couple of local micro brews I had to taste test. I even managed to stay off the rail tracks this trip. We walked a couple of miles back and forth from the hotel to the restaurant, probably a good thing. It was kinda slow going tough. Nice to stretch the legs and get some blood flow going. Back to the room for a good nights sleep, well deserved. Woke up about 5:30 the next morning, another big breakfast and back to the Ozarks we drove. 

On the way back Brian called. He wants to do another marathon this fall. Can't waste all that training for a crappy performance. Think about it, he says...